EX-S&WB MEMBER, BENJAMIN EDWARDS SENTENCED TO OVER 21 YEARS IN PRISON
BENJAMIN L. EDWARDS, SR., age 56, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (S&WB) was sentenced in federal court today by U. S. District Judge Lance M. Africk to over 21 years (262 months) for wire fraud and tax evasion, announced U. S. Attorney Jim Letten. Additionally, EDWARDS was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of approximately $3.6 million to his victims, as well as serve five (5) years supervised release following his release from prison during which time he will be under federal supervision and risk additional imprisonment should he violate the terms of his release.
According to the court documents, on February 4, 2010, EDWARDS pled guilty admitting that from February 1999 until December 11, 2009, he devised a scheme to defraud various businesses that performed work on behalf of the S&WB of money by means of false and fraudulent pretenses by the use of interstate wire transmissions. Documents filed into the record indicate that EDWARDS admitted asking Montgomery Watson Harza (MWH), James L. Jones Construction Company, and Fleming Construction Company to make “scholarship donations” to Third Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church (TSMBC), of which EDWARDS served as Reverend/Master, knowing that the money was not going to be used for students. The factual basis signed by EDWARDS also indicates that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he spoke with representatives of MWH regarding work that they were to perform in assisting the S&WB and the City of New Orleans with sewer inspections and debris cleanup. EDWARDS asked MWH to hire a company called Management Construction Consultant Incorporated (MCCI) in order to perform sewer inspections for the S&WB. EDWARDS and his brother, Bruce L. Edwards, Sr. misled MWH as to who actually controlled the company by placing sham officers onto MCCI paperwork to conceal the fact that EDWARDS and his brother were controlling the company. They also led MWH to believe that the company was a certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise. EDWARDS attempted to negotiate an hourly rate on behalf of MCCI, and asked that MWH pay the company $120 per hour. MWH eventually agreed to pay MCCI $90 per hour and MCCI ultimately ended up paying the workers just $20 per hour.
Documents further indicate that MWH would wire funds from California to the MCCI bank account located in New Orleans at Liberty Bank and Trust. MCCI received nearly $3,000,000 from MWH. After receiving the funds, EDWARDS caused his brother, Bruce L. Edwards, Sr. to route approximately $1,600,000 from MCCI’s account to EDWARDS’s tax-exempt, non-profit TSMBC account. EDWARDS would then withdraw that money from the TSMBC account to facilitate the purchase of vehicles, fund political campaigns, and obtain items of value for himself, others, and his brother, Bruce L. Edwards, Sr.
By routing the money through the tax-exempt, non-profit TSMBC account, and using cashier’s checks and cash to disguise the source of the funds, EDWARDS attempted to conceal this income from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). EDWARDS admitted in court documents that he was guilty of tax evasion by failing to report nearly $1,700,000 in income during the tax year of 2005.
One of EDWARDS’ victims, J. L. Jones, spoke in Court before the sentence was imposed and advised the Court that he lost everything because of EDWARDS’ illegal conduct. Mr. Jones told the Judge that EDWARDS destroyed his business while pretending to be a Minister and forced Mr. Jones to lay off fifty employees. Judge Africk admonished EDWARDS saying that the message is clear that public officials are expected to be honest or will face long terms of jail.
At the Government’s request, Judge Africk ordered the U. S. Marshals Service to immediately take the defendant into custody.
In related cases, EDWARDS’s brother, Bruce L. Edwards, Sr. pleaded guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion in a sealed court proceeding on December 2, 2009, prior to EDWARDS being indicted. He is set for sentencing before United States District Court Judge Jay C. Zainey on June 29, 2010. Also, Oliver C. Coleman, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony in a sealed court proceeding on December 4, 2009, also prior to EDWARDS being indicted. He is set for sentencing before United States District Court Judge Lance M. Africk on Thursday, July 8, 2010.
David W. Welker, FBI Special Agent in Charge added:
“It is a travesty when public officials use their position to enrich themselves at the expense of the citizens they are entrusted to represent. What is most reprehensible is when that occurs as the subject hides behind a church or charity reducing the credibility of both the religious institution and the political office. The FBI will continue to keep its commitment to the citizens of Louisiana to root out corruption by public officials wherever it is found regardless of the organization used to facilitate the corruption.””
Special Agent in Charge Michael J. De Palma also stated:
" Today's sentencing represents the latest chapter in the longstanding commitment of the Department of Justice and IRS Criminal Investigation to ensure that those entrusted to serve the public do so without reaping unlawful gain. IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to vigorously pursue those who intentionally evade the the tax laws. All income, regardless of the source, is fully taxable and the Special Agents of the IRS are committed to investigate and recommend for prosecution those who do not fully pay their fair share."
The case was investigated by Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U. S. Attorneys Jon Maestri, Matthew Coman, and Matthew Chester.
If you believe you have been a victim of fraud from a person or an organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of storm victims or have knowledge of waste, abuse, or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud toll free at: (866) 720-5721. You can also fax information to: (225) 334-4707 or e-mail it to: firstname.lastname@example.org